Thursday, 19 July 2012

In Search of Courage – Finding the Courage Within You, by US Senator John McCain of the Republican Party in the US

Over the past 30 years, American culture has defined courage down. We have attributed courage to all manner of actions that may indeed be admirable but hardly compare to the conscious self-sacrifice on behalf of something greater than one's own self-interest. Today, in our excessively psychoanalyzed society, sharing one's secret fears with others takes courage. So does escaping a failing marriage. These are absurd examples of our profligate misidentification of the virtue of courage. There are many other closer calls. Is the athlete's prowess and guts on the playing field an example of courage? Is suffering illness or injury without complaint courageous? Not always. They may be everyday behavior typical of courageous people. They may be evidence of virtuousness. But of themselves, these acts, admirable though they are, are not sufficient proof of courage.

Courage is like a muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets. I sometimes worry that our collective courage is growing weaker from disuse. We don't demand it from our leaders, and our leaders don't demand it from us. The courage deficit is both our problem and our fault. As a result, too many leaders in the public and private sectors lack the courage necessary to honor their obligations to others and to uphold the essential values of leadership. Often, they display a startling lack of accountability for their mistakes and a desire to put their own self-interest above the common good.

That means trouble for us all, because courage is the enforcing virtue, the one that makes possible all the other virtues common to exceptional leaders: honesty, integrity, confidence, compassion, and humility. In short, leaders who lack courage aren't leaders.

Lack of courage is not the exclusive failing of political leaders, but our failings as well as our virtues set a national example. We may have learned important lessons from the US intelligence failures that preceded the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But I'm not sure we set a reassuring example to the rest of the country by declining to punish anyone involved in those failures. Not one person was fired or was moved by his or her conscience to resign. Similarly, the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib has occasioned much soul-searching but little in the way of personal accountability. The enlisted people responsible for the abuses are facing courts-martial, as they should. But others higher in the chain of command have yet to face serious disciplinary action or offer their resignations. No one has had the courage to stand up and say, "It's my fault, I'm going to resign."

When no one takes responsibility for failure, or when responsibility is so broadly shared that individual accountability is ignored, then failure in public office becomes acceptable. It's hard to see how that serves the country.

The same holds true for the business world. Corporate America has taken significant blows to its reputation, because too many executives don't have the courage to stand up for what they know is right. The perception among many is that corporate leaders are committed only to their own self-enrichment. In 2002, Leo Mullin, the former CEO of Delta Air Lines, received a bonus of $1.4 million plus $2 million in free stock, even as the airline laid off thousands of employees. He left Delta with a huge severance package that was in no way justified by his performance. More recently, we've learned how Enron's traders bragged about gouging California ratepayers during that state's energy crisis. Those traders weren't executives, but they were inspired to behave the way they did by the "me first" climate of self-aggrandizement that Enron's leaders had created. When there's an absence of courage, greed and selfishness take over. And it's not without consequences. There's a growing disdain -- if not contempt -- for much of corporate America. And that's not healthy for the country's future.

If courage is in scarce supply, then demand is down as well. We are a strong, mostly lawful, prosperous country. We don't have as much to fear as we did in the past -- despite the events of September 11 and despite the ongoing war in Iraq. Approximately 200,000 Americans went to Iraq to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein. From a country of 270 million people, that's less than 1% of the population. Very few of us are called upon to test our courage in the crucible of fear and hard moral choices. And yet, courage still matters -- more than we think.

Without courage, all virtue is fragile: admired, sought after, professed, but held cheaply and surrendered without a fight. Winston Churchill called courage "the first of human qualities . . . because it guarantees all the others." That's what we mean by the courage of our convictions. If we lack the courage to hold on to our beliefs in the moment of their testing, not just when they accord with those of others but also when they go against threatening opposition, then they're superficial, vain things that add nothing to our self-respect or our society's respect for the virtues we profess. We can admire virtue and abhor corruption sincerely, but without courage we are corruptible.

Courage is not always certain, and it is not always comprehensible. As courage demands great sacrifice, so does it demand great economy in its definition. General William Tecumseh Sherman defined courage as a "perfect sensibility of the measure of danger and a mental willingness to endure it." That seems to me as apt a definition as any. Courage is that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve. Courage is the highest quality of life attainable by human beings. It's the moment -- however brief or singular -- when we are our complete, best self, when we know with an almost metaphysical certainty that we are right.

One thing we can claim with complete confidence is that fear is indispensable to courage, that it must always be present for courage to exist. You must be afraid to have courage. Suffering is not, by itself, courage; choosing to suffer what we fear is. And yet, too great a distinction is made between moral courage and physical courage. They are in many instances the same. For either to be authentic, it must encounter fear and prove itself superior to that fear. By fear, I mean the kind that entails serious harm to ourselves, physical or otherwise, the kind that wars with our need to take action but which we overcome because we value something or someone more than our own well-being. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.

"You can live with pain. You can live with embarrassment. Remorse is an awful companion."

In the past, I've been able to overcome my own fears because of an acute sense of an even greater fear -- that of feeling remorse. You can live with pain. You can live with embarrassment. Remorse is an awful companion. And whatever the unwelcome consequences of courage, they are unlikely to be worse than the discovery that you are less than you pretend to be. I can recall all too well those times I've avoided the risk of injury or disappointment by overruling the demands of my conscience.

One such time came during the 2000 campaign for president, when I failed to say that the Confederate flag that flew over the state capitol of South Carolina should be taken down. I rationalized, in a moment of cowardice, that that decision should be left to the people of South Carolina. After the campaign, I returned to South Carolina and apologized, which didn't mean much since the apology came after the fact. The lesson that I took from that experience was this: In the long run, you're far better off taking the courageous path. I don't know if I would have won South Carolina, but taking the position I did, I lost. Maybe I would have lost by more if I had spoken out -- so what? At least my conscience wouldn't have bothered me long after the disappointment of a lost election had worn off.

If fear is a condition of courage, so too is love. It is love that makes us willing to sacrifice, love that gives us courage. And it was love that helped me endure five years of captivity in a Hanoi prisoner-of-war camp, the love and compassion that came from my comrades. Whenever I was down, my fellow prisoners picked me up, many times at risk to themselves. I learned what I didn't want to learn: that I had failings that required the assistance of others. The great privilege of my life is to be associated with men of courage who tried to impart their own courage to me.

"Don't let fear convince you that you're too weak to have courage. Fear is the opportunity for courage, not proof of cowardice."

Love makes courage necessary. And it's love that makes courage possible for all of us to possess. You get courage by loving something more than your own well-being. When you love virtue, when you love freedom, when you love other people, you find the strength to demand courage of yourself and of those who aspire to lead you. Only then will you find the courage, as Eleanor Roosevelt puts it, "to do the thing you think you cannot do."

If you do the thing you think you cannot do, you'll feel your resistance, your hope, your dignity, and your courage grow stronger. You will someday face harder choices that very well might require more courage. And when those moments come and you choose well, your courage will be recognized by those who matter most to you. When your children see you choose, without hesitation, without remark, to value virtue more than security, to love more than you fear, they will learn what courage looks like and what love serves, and they will dread its absence.

We're all afraid of something. The one fear we must all guard against is the fear of ourselves. Don't let the sensation of fear convince you that you're too weak to have courage. Fear is the opportunity for courage, not proof of cowardice. No one is born a coward. We were meant to love. And we were meant to have the courage for it.

U.S. Senator John McCain is the author, along with Mark Salter, of Faith of My Fathers, Worth the Fighting For, and Why Courage Matters, from which portions of this essay were adapted.

Unliving a Lie - Daring to Admit You are Wrong.

Seven years ago, after a decade of working at a high level in conservative politics and media, I made a conscious decision to break ranks -- both privately, to try to reset my own moral compass, and publicly, to try to reset a distorted record, for I felt a responsibility to correct the history books before it was too late.
Oddly enough, I had come to this personal and professional crossroads having made a name for myself in the political media by harnessing the well-financed and well-organized machinery of the conservative movement to attack those who had the courage to try to stand up to it. It was the early 1990s, and following the Republican Party line, I had chosen sides in the raging culture war, taking on Anita Hill and the Clintons in ways that I'd come to realize were false and wrong.
The real issue at the heart of this unfolding realization was not political or partisan, although it inevitably played out in a right-left context. The issue was one of honesty and integrity. People who had encouraged me to defend Clarence Thomas, it turned out, didn't even believe the bill of goods they had sold me. And when one of the lawyers working for Paula Jones, whose sexual-harassment lawsuit (against Bill Clinton – McJ’s addition) I had triggered with a salacious article, told me he didn't believe his own client -- it was all just politics -- I began to understand that my celebrated role as a right-wing journalistic hit man was the very opposite of speaking truth to power. Once I admitted this to myself, I had to stop.
But I had to do more than stop. Making a conscious decision to separate myself from the destructive politics I was involved in meant that I couldn't remain silent. My own remorse was a simmering catalyst for going public and setting the record straight. Yet, coming clean would not be easy; it meant exposing not only the inner operations of the world I had worked in and lived in for years but also, in no uncertain terms, my own zealous and increasingly lucrative participation in it.
At the end of the day, there would be no passing off responsibility to others. And there would be the inevitable attacks on my motives and credibility that accompany almost every act of whistle-blowing. As we've seen more recently with Sherron Watkins of Enron (Sherron was the first inside person to publicly speak out about the unethical business practices of Enron, which eventually snowballed into the history of Enron that we know it today – McJ’s addition) and Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism official, there is no glory in refusing to stay silent, but there can be some personal honor.
In business, in politics, in journalism, in the military -- in any organization large or small -- there seem to be few incentives to stand on principle today. Doing so, speaking up for what I believed was right, I learned, can be a profoundly isolating experience, which may be why, whether at Abu Ghraib or in the spate of corporate scandals, leaders try to pass the buck rather than accept responsibility for their actions and those of their subordinates. The act of thrusting oneself into a kind of professional purgatory can feel like self-immolation.
In such moments, one searches for examples of others who seem to have traveled a similar path. In my case, I kept coming back to an indelible image of Lee Atwater, the Republican pit-bull strategist who made telephone calls from his deathbed apologizing to those he had slandered. Atwater had the courage to spend his twilight hours acknowledging his misdeeds, known and unknown. And while he didn't have to live with the consequences of admitting his sins, Atwater's declarations of guilt may have been and may continue to be an inspiration to those who realize that making a clean breast is, in the end, the only path to choose.
I would never say that I am courageous. Courage, I now see, is a journey involving self-doubt and self-examination, with the end never in sight. Since I decided to stay in Washington as an outspoken critic of the political Right, what I did is popularly understood as "switching sides," but it feels more complicated than that. As opposed to the years of self-righteousness and ideological certainty, the possibility that I may be wrong is now with me all the time, when I have the courage to think about it.
Unliving a Lie - Daring to Admit You are Wrong, by David Brock
David Brock, author of Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, is the founder and president of Media Matters for America, a new progressive media-research center in Washington, DC.
Commencement Address to the 2007 Graduating Class of University of Vermont School of Business Delivered on May 20, 2007 by David J. Perez [Class of 1981]

Good Afternoon. It’s an honor for me to share this moment with everyone here today. Thank you, Dean Dewitt, for inviting me to speak. To be honest, I couldn’t quite believe it when I received the Dean’s call. I sent her back a note saying I’m honored to accept but, why me? You are all probably having a similar thought: why him? Who is this guy? Is he a member of congress, celebrity, or captain of industry? What does he have to say? Has he ever given a commencement address before?

The answer to each of those is no. Rocki gave me an assignment to share some wisdom and inspire you. Hopefully, by the end of this speech, you will see why I was chosen.

Congratulations to everyone here whose energy has made this day possible. Faculty and Staff: way to go! You made it through another year. Mom and Dad: you must be so proud, relieved and broke. Graduates: soak it all in. That feeling of accomplishment, savor it, because starting tomorrow it’s back to square one! Congratulations, again. You all accomplished this great milestone together. Enjoy the moment!

Being here today takes me back to another century. The 20th century. 1981 to be exact. I was in the audience, like you, about to graduate groovy UV. Sitting in Patrick Gym I could still smell the sweet aroma of the Grateful Dead show from the night before. As I sat in my cap and gown, I felt excited to be done with school, ready to crack open the champagne under my gown, and completely clueless about my future. Perhaps some of you feel the same way. What do I do now?

I truly had no clue what I was going to do for my career. I had so many different interests and the desire to make something of myself, but no idea how or what. What was I going to be? How was I going to get there? Like there was a place to get to. Little did I know. As I reflect back now to the stress of being a graduate I wish someone had told me what I’m about to share with you. Perhaps somebody did, but I couldn’t hear it at the time. There is no There to get to, only a journey to take, a series of chapters to write and paths to explore.

Here’s a bit of my journey.
Two weeks after commencement, I was on a plane to Cochabamba, Bolivia to live with my Father’s relatives, learn Spanish and travel. I wanted to dig and find my roots. I knew the success my dad had achieved, but didn’t understand what he had to overcome to accomplish it.

As a poor kid growing up in Bolivia, my Father dreamed of a better life by coming to the United States. He made that dream a reality in 1950 when he arrived in Passaic, New Jersey with a medical degree and a suitcase full of ambition, energy and determination, to, as he used to say, “make something of himself”. He sure did make something of himself -- becoming a successful surgeon, marrying a beautiful nurse, raising 3 sons and traveling the world. My father came a long way from being the son of a poor Quechan Indian woman to becoming a doctor in America.

Now what would I do? I was a privileged, some might say spoiled, doctor’s kid from Jersey. What could I do to equal the achievement of my Dad? When I asked him for direction or advice he would only say, “do what you love and be the best”. That was his mantra, his secret of success.

It took me many years to find what I truly loved. I keep looking, often without success. One lesson my journey has taught me was to learn by the process of exploration.

After 6 months in Bolivia and traveling around South America I ended up in Washington DC working for a US government agency. I’ll never forget my first salary, $18,000. Wow, was I living large. After a few months I knew I wasn’t destined to be a government worker, so that job didn’t last very long.

A year later, my minor at UVM had been put to full use skiing chest deep powder in Kitzbuel Austria! I was washing pots and pans at night, and teaching tourists how to snowplow during the day. The glorious life of a ski bum.

After a year of exploring Europe, I was broke and ready to start the next chapter, so I came home with literally 5 deutsch marks in my pocket. Now what? Back to Burlington of course! Without any idea of what to do I eventually found myself interviewing for a job as a stockbroker. I ended up winning 1 of 2 trainee spots at Dean Witter Reynolds in Burlington. I found something I could excel in. I loved the fact that I controlled my own destiny and determined what I got paid. But after awhile I tired of talking about earnings per share and PE ratios.

As my Mom, who is here today and always supported me in my journey, would say “David, you get bored when you’re not challenged.” You know, she’s right. So the search was on for the next challenge. What now? Selling stock and bonds just wasn’t creative or stimulating enough. It was time to pursue my creative passion, photography. January 1989, I’m back on a plane, this time a one-way ticket to Hong Kong to see some good friends from UVM explore Asia and build my photography portfolio.

Koh Samui, Bangkok, Sumatra, Bali, Berlin, and Copenhagen -- all the way around the world. By the time I got home 9 months later I had shot 1000 rolls of film and was desperately in love with a Swedish girl. The Swedish girl quickly proceeded to blow me off and break my heart. But that’s another story. My career as a photographer was very exciting but the opportunity of the internet boom was too compelling to pass up.

I went to work for a series of small, privately owned companies where I was exposed to business ownership. I wasn’t cut out to be an employee, I wanted to be the boss, but it took me getting fired 3 times to figure that out. It was then that I knew I needed to be the owner of the company and control my own destiny. After recognizing this I began searching for a new direction. Now it’s early 1999. I’m 40. I feel adrift professionally, unfulfilled, insecure about my future, and frustrated working for the man. I was married and about to start a family. No wonder I had an ulcer and was in therapy.

So, I went to work on a plan to start my own business. By September my wife Nicole is 6 months pregnant with our daughter Martine, I quit my job and start my first company, Lumina Americas, an incubator for Hispanic focused internet startups in the US and Latin America. I raised US$25 million of venture money and was off to the races. My timing was perfect -- riding a surfboard on the Internet wave! Six months later looking over my shoulder the wave crashes on my head. The stock market collapses, dot-coms go bust and then 9/11 happens. Back to square one again.

Determined to keep the dream of my own business alive, I rebuild. Out of the ashes of Lumina, I emerge and start a new company, Latin Force, still focused on the US Hispanic market, but doing business and marketing strategy. Today, I’m having the time of my life, and never been happier. I have a wonderful, healthy family and a thriving business in the exciting and fast growing Hispanic market.

So that’s my story. The advice I have to share with you, graduates, is to explore the world and in turn explore yourself. Leave this country and hear, feel, smell how the rest of the world lives.

Continue your education in the streets and villages of Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. We live in a global economy where understanding different cultures and languages is a personal competitive advantage. Create your own definitions of success. It’s not what my parents or your parents knew.

We need to be flexible. Embrace change. The world today is so dynamic that you have to morph your self many times over the course of your lives. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself to seek out opportunity. Don’t do what you think you should do. Follow your heart. The key is to know your abilities and inner qualities. This will make you a success at what ever you choose.
Make time for your self, for your family and community.

Feed your soul.
Don’t be afraid to try and fail. Find your inspiration, whatever that inspiration may be: starting your own business, saving the world, government service, or a corporate career. Nurture your inspiration and fuel it with determination, humor, passion and commitment. The determination to be the best you can be. The humor to laugh and enjoy the journey. The passion to make a difference and the commitment to be true to yourself.

I’m 48 years old and I’ve been a government bureaucrat, ski bum, stock broker, photographer, dot comer and now I’m a multicultural marketing entrepreneur/ private equity guy. My wife probably has an ulcer from all of my career changes. I, however, am excited to find out what’s next.

In today’s economy we all have to be entrepreneurs. And when I say entrepreneur you don’t have to be the person to start the next Google. Doctors, educators, and corporate executives all need to be entrepreneurs. We live in a world where it’s important to be a creative leader no matter what your field.

Every era has its waves of opportunity. The 90s was the Internet. Today the environment, sustainable resource development, philanthropy are a few that come to mind. Another that I feel qualified to discuss is the exciting and fast growing field of multicultural marketing. The US Census announced this week the latest population growth figures. So-called minorities now constitute one third of the US population -- 100 million people. The demographic changes occurring today are and will continue to have profound impact on popular culture, business, politics, public policy, education, and every aspect of our society.

Latinos are the engines of economic growth in America today accounting for the fastest growing segment of population and purchasing power. So, if one is selling cars, clothes, mortgages, flat screen TVs or anything else growth will come from Latino consumers. I’ve built my business on being at the forefront of understanding the changes a multicultural America will bring and finding the opportunities that lie therein. Goldman Sachs is investing with me in this fast growing future. I invite you to consider a career in this burgeoning field. There are many opportunities, and we need all of the help we can

In closing…

The University of Vermont has prepared you well to go out in the world. A world where there are so many exciting for fresh, creative, responsible leadership. You, graduates, are our new leaders. It will be you who will find the solutions to the challenges we face today. Perhaps in 26 years it will be one of you standing here giving the commencement address in 2033. Think about that!
There is an expression in Spanish that roughly translated says, “Once you start down the path you will find your way.”
Remember, focus on the journey, savor the paths you take, the stops you make, and the chapters you write. Find what you love, be the best you can be, and enjoy the ride. It goes fast. Thank you for yet another opportunity to have this time with you.

Leave The City Of Your Comfort And Go Into The Wilderness Of Your Intuition. You Can't Get There By Bus, Only By Hard Work And Risk And By Not Quite Knowing What You're Doing - Alan Alda

“I'm here today for a very special reason.

When my daughter, Eve, was small, every dinner conversation would go roughly the same way. I would introduce a fascinating topic. Then I would make some glittering comments and generally attack it from all sides until Eve or one of her sisters would indicate a sufficiently low level of interest to make me grind to a stuttering halt.

Now Eve is graduating college and I've been asked by her class if I would give a little talk.

Of course I accepted. This will be the first time in 21 years that she'll listen to one of my speeches all the way through.

As I stand here, I'm probably experiencing what most parents feel today. A desire, a little inner tug, to say something that will count in a special way.

Deep in our hearts, we know that the best things said come last. People will talk for hours saying nothing much and then linger at the door with words that come with a rush from the heart. Doorways, it seems, are where the truth is told. We are all gathered at a doorway today. It's the end of something and the beginning of something else. And my guess is there will be a lot of lingering at the door today with the hope that one of us will say something that will somehow express what can't be said in words.

We linger there with our hand on the knob chattering away like Polonius to Laertes. Now remember "neither a borrower nor a lender be"... and don't forget "This above all: To thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." But the very best things said often slip out completely unheralded and preceded by the words, "Oh, by the way."

I hear that patients will talk to their therapists for an hour, hardly saying anything, and just as they're leaving, turn at the door and say, "Oh, by the way," and in one sentence reveal everything they've been avoiding for 50 minutes.

In real life, when Polonius had finished giving all that fatherly advice to his son, who probably wasn't paying all that much attention anyway, he must have said - just as the boy was stepping into his boat - "Oh, by the way, if you get into any trouble, don't forget you can always call me at the office." As we stand in the doorway today, these are my parting words to my daughter, Eve. I may sound a little like Polonius, Eve, but Polonius and I have something in common - like all fathers, we love to hear ourselves talk. And there are so many things I want to tell you.

The first thing I want to say is don't be scared. With all the giddy excitement you feel - and that I feel with you as you graduate - my guess is you're also feeling a little uncertain today. You're suddenly a grown woman with your whole life in your hands. And you're being flung into a world that's running about as smoothly as a car with square wheels. I want you to know that it's OK to be uncertain. I'm uncertain, too. In a world like this, it's appropriate to be uncertain. You're an adult in a time when the leaders of the world are behaving like children whose demands are not negotiable. Where the central image of our day is a terrorist one: humane concerns inhumanely expressed. And where the only response to this is impotent fury.

If you weren't a little uncertain, I'd be nervous for you. You've been preparing yourself all these years, but you're not sure for what. You know what you want to do when you leave school, but you're not entirely sure what it will be like - how it will work out. Some of your classmates don't have any idea what they'll do for the rest of their lives. And that's all right, too, because all of you have learned the most important thing that any school could teach you - you've learned to learn.

If you feel a little off balance, it's understandable. Adulthood has come upon you suddenly and you're not all that sure you're ready for it. I think that sometimes I'm not ready for adulthood either - yours or mine.

The day before yesterday you were a baby I was afraid to hold because you seemed so fragile. Yesterday, all I could feel was helplessness when you broke your small, 9-year-old arm. Only this morning you were a teenager. As I get older, the only thing that speeds up is time. But as much as it's true that time is a thief, time also leaves something in exchange. With time comes experience - and however uncertain you may be about the rest of the world, at least about your own work you will be sure.

And that's something else I want to tell you as we stand in this doorway today. Love your work. If you always put your heart into everything you do, you really can't lose.

If your heart is in it, you'll probably succeed, and if it isn't in it, you probably won't succeed. But the reason you can't lose is that whether you wind up making a lot of money or not, you will have had a wonderful time, and no one will ever be able to take that away from you.

I want to tell you everything. I want to squeeze things great and small into this lingering good-bye. I want to tell you to keep laughing.

I used to be afraid that writing and acting in comedies might be a frivolous occupation, but when I think about all the good that laughing does for people, I get the feeling that making people laugh can be noble work. You have a wonderful laugh. You gurgle when you laugh. Keep gurgling. Be sure to gurgle three times a day for your own well being. There are people who think that the only thing that separates humans from the rest of the animals is their ability to laugh. I'm not so sure anything separates us from the rest of the animals except perhaps our extreme egotism that leads us to think that they're animals and we're not. But I do notice that when people are laughing, they're generally not killing one another. So keep laughing yourself and if you can get other people to join you in your laughter, you may help keep this shaky boat afloat.

I want to tell you things that will see you through. I have this helpless urge to pass on maxims to you. But we live in new times. Strange times. Even the Golden Rule doesn't seem adequate to pass on to a daughter. There should be something added to it. You know how I love amendments. You knew I wanted to amend the Constitution, but you probably didn't know I wanted to amend the Golden Rule as well. Here's my Golden Rule for a tarnished age: Be fair with others but then keep after them until they're fair with you.

It's a complex world. I hope you'll learn to make distinctions. You know how much I love logic. I always felt that the most important parts of my education were learning to reason and learning to use language well. That's why when you were a very little girl, I started trying to give you lessons in logic. I smile when I think that to this day, you can still remember what I passed on to you as the first rule of logic: A thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. (In your head, you're saying that along with me right now, aren't you?) You were kind enough to take a logic course because I had spoken too highly of it, only to find out that they teach symbolic logic now and they never even mention the first rule of logic. But whatever mode you reason in, I hope you'll always make distinctions. A peach is not its fuzz, a toad is not its warts, a person is not his or her crankiness. If we can make distinctions, we can be tolerant, and we can get to the heart of our problems instead of wrestling endlessly with their gross exteriors. And once you make a habit of making distinctions, you'll begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won't come in. If you challenge your own, you won't be so quick to accept the unchallenged assumptions of others. You'll be a lot less likely to be caught up in bias or prejudice or be influenced by people who ask you to hand over your brains, your soul or your money because they have everything all figured out for you.

I don't have the rhythms or style of Polonius today but I have all his doddering urgency.

I want to tell you to be as smart as you can but to try to remember that it's always better to be wise than to be smart. And don't be upset that it takes a long, long time to find wisdom because nobody knows where wisdom can be found. It tends to break out at unexpected times like a rare virus and mostly people with compassion and understanding are susceptible to it.

The door is inching a little closer toward the latch and I still haven't said it. You'll be gone and I won't have found the words. Let me dig a little deeper.

Let me go back to when I was in college. There were words that had power for me then - maybe they will for you now.

I had forgotten how much this idea meant to me - how much I wrote about it and thought about it. It was the essence of a philosophy that was very popular at the time and it's one of the most helpful and cheerful ideas I've ever heard.

It's this: Life is absurd and meaningless and full of nothingness. Possibly this doesn't strike you as helpful and cheerful, but I think it is, because it's honest and because it goads you on.

I had a teacher in those days who saw me with a book by Jean Paul Sartre under my arm and he said to me, "Be careful, if you read too much of that you'll start walking around dressed in black, looking wan, doing nothing for the rest of your life." Well, I read the book anyway and as it turned out, I'm tanned and lovely, I'm rich and productive and I'm happy like nobody's business.

Maybe it was my natural optimism at work, but what I saw and warmed to in the existentialist writings was that life is meaningless unless you bring meaning to it; that it is up to us to create our own existence. Unless you do something, unless you make something it's as though you aren't there.

I was very taken at the time by a Catholic existentialist called Gabriel Marcel who spoke about fidelity as essential to existence. Fidelity had a special meaning for him - it meant presence - being there with the people around you. None of this seemed dour to me. Existentialism was supposed to be the philosophy of despair. But not to me - because it faced the cold hard stone you hit when you touch rock bottom and I saw in it a way to bound back up again. No matter how loving or loved we are, it eventually occurs to most of us - that deep, deep down inside there, we're all alone. I'm not telling you this to depress you or to turn your eyes away from the soft flutter of blossoms on a day in spring. But I know that winter's coming and when the moment comes for you to wrestle with that cold loneliness which is every person's private monster, I want you to face the damn thing. I want you to see it for what it is and win.

This spring is the fulfillment of an era in a way. It was news back then when people declared God to be dead, but now Sartre is dead - and in a curious way so is the optimism that spawned his pessimism. The distressing reality is that 25 years ago when I was in college we all talked about nothingness but moved into a world of effort and endeavor. And now no one much talks about nothingness but the world itself, the one you will move into, is filled with it.

You may not feel it right now, not on a day like this. Maybe it's something that strikes you - not when you graduate college - but only when your child does. But whenever that sense of absurdity hits you, I want you to be ready. It will have a hard time getting hold of you if you're already in motion. You can learn the skills of your profession. You can use those skills and others you have learned here and you can dig into the world and push it into better shape.

For one thing, you can clean the air and water. Some people feel that lead poisoning was a major cause of the fall of the Roman Empire, because the ruling class had their food cooked in expensive pots that were lined with lead. They didn't know any better, but we don't have that excuse. Now almost 2,000 years later a number of American companies have hit upon the incredibly clever idea of getting rid of their industrial waste by putting it into our food. Not directly of course; that would be too expensive. First they put it in the ground - then it goes into the water, and the next thing you know you're eating a sludgeburger. You can do something about that.

Or you can try to make the justice system work, You can bring the day a little closer when the rich and privileged have to live by the same standards as the poor and the outcast.

Or you can try to put an end to organized crime - that happy family whose main objective is to convince us they don't exist while they destroy a whole generation with drugs and suck the life from our economy.

Or you can step gingerly in the path of the lumbering behemoth of nuclear power. And you can ask the simple question: What ever happened to the principle of no radiation without representation?

Or you can keep the tiger of war away from our gates for awhile longer. You can do what you can to keep old men from sending children away to die. They're tuning up for the song of war now. They're making preparations and trial excursions. They're tickling our anger. They're asking us if we're ready to pour the cream of our youth out onto the ground where it will seep into the earth and disappear forever. Tell them we're not. The time to stop the next war is now - before it starts.

If you want to take absurdity by the neck and shake it till its brains rattle, you can try to find out how it is that people can see one another as less than human. How people can be capable of both nuture and torture. How we can worry and fret about a little girl caught in a mine shaft, spending days and nights getting her out but then burn a village to the ground and destroy all its people with hardly the blink of an eye. When the new draft was proposed a few months ago, some kids raised signs that said "Nothing is worth dying for." I don't agree. I don't feel that nothing is worth dying for, but since I was very young I questioned if anything is worth killing for. If you're interested, you can question that,too,and you can try to find out why people all over the world, of every country, of every class, of every religion have,at one time or another,found it so easy, for reasons large and small, to use other people, to make them suffer and to just plain do away with them.

And while you're doing all of that, there's something else you can do. You can pass on the torch that's been carried from Seneca Falls. Remember that every right you have as a woman was won for you by women fighting hard. Everything else you have is a privilege, not a right. A privilege is given and taken away at the pleasure of those in power. There are little girls being born right now who won't even have the same rights you do when they grow up unless you do something to maintain them and extend the range of equality for women. The soup of civilized life is a nourishing stew but it doesn't keep bubbling on its own. Put something back in the pot as you leave for the people in line behind you.

There are, of course, hundreds of things you can work on, and they're all fairly impossible to achieve, so there's plenty to keep you busy for the rest of your life. I can't promise you this will ever completely reduce that sense of absurdity, but it may get it down to a manageable level. It will allow you once in awhile to take a glorious vacation from nothingness and bask in the feeling that, all in all, things do seem to be moving forward. I can see your brow knitting in that way that I love. That crinkle between your eyebrows that signals your doubt and your skepticism just as it does on the forehead of your mother and your Grandpa Simon. The genetic code is signaling your doubt to me right now. Why - on a day of such excitement and hope should I be talking of nothingness and decay? Because I want you to focus that hope and level that excitement into coherent rays that will strike like a laser at the targets of our discontent.

I want you to be potent; to do good when you can and to hold your wit and your intelligence like a shield against other people's wantonness. And above all, to laugh and enjoy yourself in a life of your own choosing and in a world of your own making. I want you to be strong and aggressive and tough and resilient and full of feeling. I want you to be everything that's you, deep at the center of your being.

I want you to have chutzpah.

Nothing important was ever accomplished without chutzpah. Columbus had chutzpah. The signers of the Declaration of Independence had chutzpah. Don't ever aim your doubt at yourself. Laugh at yourself, but don't doubt yourself. Whenever you wonder about yourself, look up at the stars swirling around in the heavens and just realize how tiny and puny they are. They're supposed to be gigantic explosions and they're just these insignificant little dots. If you step back from things far enough you realize how important and powerful you are. Be bold. Let the strength of your desire give force and moment to your every step. Move with all of yourself. When you embark for strange places don't leave any of yourself safely on shore. They may laugh at you if you don't discover India. Let them laugh. India's already there. You'll come back with a brand new America. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory. Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. It is not the previously known. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing, but what you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself.

Well, those are my parting words as today's door closes softly between us. There will be other partings and other last words in our lives so if today's lingering at the threshold didn't quite speak the unspeakable, maybe the next one will.

I'll let you go now

So long, be happy.

Oh, by the way, I love you.”

Commencement Speech Delivered by Alan Alda in 1980 @ Connecticut College at the 62nd Commencement Ceremonies.

Make Choices That Will Make You Happy For A Long Time, Rather Than Just Focusing On The Next Two Seconds - Ray Sidney

More than a lifetime ago, I stood where you stand now, ready for the capstone of my E.O. Smith career. I salute each of you for all of your accomplishments leading up to today’s crowning glory, and I congratulate everyone who has supported you and made it possible to get here.

I’m sure that each of you has your own plan for what comes next in your life, although no doubt for some of you, that plan is something like: “hang out at my parents’ house to decompress and figure out what to do with my life”. That plan is really more of a “metaplan” than a plan. If that’s where you’re heading, that’s cool by me, but make sure you don’t spend so long chillaxin’ at your parents’ place that they start to introduce you as “my offspring, the Big Sponge”.

I guess I ought to tell you something about my connection to you and about my life in general. I grew up in Storrs from the age of two. I graduated from E.O. Smith in 1987, and my two brothers and one sister graduated from E.O. Smith as well. All four of us went straight to college after high school, and three of four went straight to grad school after that. (The youngest of us spent two years working before she returned to grad school.)

My parents still live here in Storrs in the very same house that they moved into when I was in 1st grade. And my father’s still a professor at Uconn, which he has been since even before I was in 1st grade. Although none of us kids stayed in the immediate vicinity of Storrs, two of us have remained not far away, and still live in Connecticut. When I finished grad school, in 1995 (still most of a lifetime ago), I entered the work force. I had always been a “math & computers” guy, so I took jobs in high-tech, doing software engineering and computer security work. One year out of school, in 1996, I went west to Silicon Valley, which is a pretty classic move for people in high-tech. Actually, people in high-tech-- and other people, too-- often move to Silicon Valley not just because there are cool jobs there, but because they hope to strike it rich.

In Silicon Valley, companies are constantly being born, coming of age (if they even get that far!), and dying often painful deaths. Anybody who’s lived in Silicon Valley will tell you that 97% of startups fail-- because the idea behind the company turns out not to be quite as ingenious as everyone thought, or because the competition somehow makes it impossible to break into the market and make any money, or because the company’s management has no idea whatsoever how to run a company, or because they weren’t able to recruit the right people to do the work, or because actually building their product took longer than expected and so they ran out of funding, or because they were so far ahead of the rest of the world that nobody could even understand their product, or because of any of a million other reasons.

Many people in Silicon Valley change jobs the way people elsewhere change clothes. Some of these people really like the excitement of working for a small company, because things happen quickly, everyone has a lot of responsibility, and they get to wear a lot of different hats. These often people claim that they feel bored working at larger, more stable companies. Other people have rather mercenary motivations: they’re always looking to be at the start of the next big thing, because if they can be there at the right time, they might be able to make a bundle of money.

Sometimes, startups that are looking for funding can’t even pay their employees wages-- they pay them in stock, instead. I have friends who worked at a company for over a year, being paid only in stock. And even though this company wasn’t paying its employees any money, it was company policy that all employees had to work like dogs. I remember going to a Saturday wedding with those friends, and they told me that they had had to get special permission to take part of the day off so that they could attend it! Unfortunately for my friends, this particular company eventually went under, never having managed to obtain enough funding to get anywhere in the world. Some people in Silicon Valley have worked for so many unsuccessful companies that they joke that they can paper their walls with worthless stock certificates!

In any case, at the end of 1998, the company I was working for was busy paying the price for some bad decisions they had made that had caused them to lose some hundreds of millions of dollars. (Back in 1998, people actually thought that that was a lot of money!) They had to close down their Bay Area operations a mere five months or so after they had opened up the office and I had started working for them. So in December of 1998, I found myself looking for a job. At that time, I had a friend, Meredith, who was a grad student at Stanford. Her boyfriend, who went at that time by the name “Sir G”, had started a little software shop with his buddy Larry. These two guys-- Sergey Brin and Larry Page-- had followed a time-honored example out west: they had gone on leave from Stanford grad school-- in this case, from the Computer Science Department’s PhD program-- to start a company in September of 1998. In this case, the company was called “Google”, and it was started to commercialize a research project that Sir G and Larry had been working on in grad school. (Note that since Sergey’s a big captain of industry these days, it’s been some years since he referred to himself by the rather diminutive-sounding “Sir G”.)

Meredith and another friend, Gil, engineered a meeting between me and Sir G and Larry. It turned out that they were looking to hire software engineers for their fledgling company, and since I was out pounding the pavement for a job at the time, we discussed the possibility of me working for their company. Within a week or two, I had come in for a more formal interview with the whole team: Sir G and Larry and their first two employees. Shortly after that, I had a job offer from them, and I had to figure out whether I wanted to go to work there or at one of the other companies that had extended offers to me.

The main down side to working for this company was that the odds were way against it going anywhere, just as the odds are stacked against any early-stage startup. At least my job offer from them was a real job offer that included a salary, and not just stock options. (At the stage I was at in my life back then, not receiving a salary would definitely have been a deal-breaker!) But job-hunting can be a painful and time-consuming process, and I didn’t want to take a job and then find myself out on the streets looking for a job again in another six months or so. It didn’t help any that the company had been founded by grad school dropouts-- if things started getting a little bit tough for the company, I could imagine the founders saying, “Well, this whole business of running a company turns out to be a real drag! We’ve decided that we’re going to shut it all down and go back to grad school.”

So I talked with my friend Meredith, who you’ll recall was dating Sir G at the time. I don’t recall our conversation exactly, but it was something like this: “Hey, Meredith-- do you think these guys are serious about making this work?” And Meredith said: “Yeah, they really are. They’ve been talking to a lot of really knowledgeable people about how to proceed.” So I said: “Do they know what they’re doing? Is there any chance whatsoever that their company could get somewhere?” And Meredith said: “They’ve been figuring things out pretty well so far, and everything seems to kind of just fall into place for them kind of magically. They weren’t even planning on necessarily starting a company, when someone threw $100,000 of funding at them. Then someone else had a little extra space at a data center, so they kind of lucked into having a place to stick all their servers.”
I think Meredith might have voiced a few more examples of the sorts of serendipitous happenings that seemed to follow these guys around.

I started work on January 11, 1999. This was the first time I ever worked for a tiny little startup company, which, as I discussed earlier, can be a rather risky endeavor. For me, there were three main reasons I decided to go to work for these guys:

• They seemed like they’d be fun to work with;
• I imagined that I’d get to work on all kinds of neat things;
• The company seemed to have a chance of success. Hardly anybody had heard of it at that point, but everyone who had tried their product really liked it.

As fate would have it, I was lucky, and my analysis above turned out to be more or less correct…

“Fun to work with”? A week after I joined Google, Harry started working there, and he and I started company roller hockey games twice a week in nearby parking lots. (We would play in a parking lot for a few weeks until the security guards or someone noticed and we got kicked out, and then we’d have to find a different parking lot to use from then on.) For a while, more than three-quarters of the company participated in our roller hockey games!

Harry and I also pushed for a company ski trip to Tahoe, and so everybody piled into a van and drove up for a few days of fun at Squaw Valley. Somewhere, there’s some slightly embarrassing footage of me from that first ski trip: Sir G jumps off a big cornice and sticks the landing no problem. I follow him, except that I actually just stand there for about 30 seconds trying to psych myself up to jump off. Finally I summon the nerve to go for it, but as soon as I jump off, I disappear from view, because I crash-land and am not visible from down below where the camera is. Another 30 seconds or so passes before I can extricate myself from my situation and stand up into the camera’s field of view, more or less completely covered in snow.

Roller hockey and ski trips are nice, but it’s more telling that Google is at the very top of everyone’s “Best Companies to Work For” lists. Between three meals a day of gourmet chow, doctors on-site to visit without having to head out and sit in a waiting room, cheap massages, and many more perks, the employees have it pretty soft. Life at the company is about as much like life in a college dormitory as I can imagine. In fact, in a way, life there is a little too soft and dorm-like: since all of employees’ needs are taken care of on-site, it’s easy to forget that there actually is a whole world out there! Employees might never get around to spending time outside Google!

In addition to the easy living, employees have the benefits of being in a culture where it’s a good thing to think big. What do I mean by that? Well, I can remember numerous times when engineers said something like, “I just had this great idea. I could really improve our service if I could have 10,000 computers in each data center dedicated to my idea.” You can have ideas like that at any company, but at most companies, there’s no point in even bothering to verbalize them, ‘cause there’s no chance that anyone’s going to hand you all those computers. But at Google, if you can make a case for the great things you’re going to do with all those computers, you can have them! For a person who gets lots of neat ideas, being in a corporate culture that supports and nurtures those ideas is more important than any fancy-shmancy corporate benefits. Mind you, back when Google was a 5-person shop working out of half a house, we didn’t have 10,000 servers to give to everyone’s pet project. But even back then, we thought big in other ways.

All right-- I realize that I sound like a corporate recruiter! I should move along, since I no longer work for Google, and since I don’t have any jobs to offer anybody.

Next on my list of reasons to work at Google: “Get to work on neat things”. Before I started working there, I imagined various projects that I’d work on, and some of them were pretty appealing! I have to admit that the things I actually did work on were almost completely different from the things I originally envisioned working on. Still, there was-- and still is!-- a lot of cool stuff to work on at Google, and I had my hands on a decent amount of it.

Finally: “The company seemed to have a chance of success”. Google survived the dotcom bust years comfortably as a privately-held company, and went public in 2004 in a way that made many people say it was totally and ridiculously overvalued. Since then, its value has gone up by a factor of six or so, and the company is one of the 20 or so largest companies in the US. It has eclipsed its rivals in earnings, market share, value, and just plain coolness. Its name is now a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary! And it has offices all over the planet.

OK, I sound like a corporate recruiter again. No more!

So that’s the story of how I brilliantly used the traditional Silicon Valley technique of being in the right place at the right time with the right skills to become the 3rd person hired at Google. In other words, I had the right personal connections and good luck. Looking back at how things worked out, it was a great decision, and my 50 months working at Google made me very comfortable financially for the rest of my life, or so I expect. But that’s all hindsight, and my Google experience could easily enough have gone very differently.

Actually, at the time that I accepted my job offer from Google, I was also considering a job offer from another company in the Internet search space. The CEO of the other company tried to talk me out of taking the Google offer, saying that not only were there very low odds of a tiny startup like that actually going anywhere, but that even if it did survive, the best I could hope for was for it to be acquired for $50M, and then I’d end up with my own very small chunk of that valuation. He even mentioned how a “much more substantial player” was recently acquired for $35M. It’s more than a little amusing for me to look back on the advice this CEO gave me and to think about how Google is now worth more than 3,000 times the $50M figure that he felt was a very generous estimate. And this guy wasn’t a random person chosen off the street; he was the CEO of a company in the same industry segment as Google!

Today’s commencement exercise is an official E.O. Smith event-- possibly the last one you’ll ever attend!-- so it should have an educational component. What can I say now at this critical turning point in your life to help you with your future? If I were a better writer, I’d have come up with good advice and managed to integrate it nicely and logically into the rest of my speech. But instead of a good writer, you have me in front of you; so you got my personal narrative in part 1, and now you get my advice in part 2. There aren’t necessarily always strong tie-ins between part 1 and part 2...

Don’t be afraid to think big or to shoot for the stars. Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots that you never take.” We all have our limits, and nobody is capable of doing absolutely everything-- remember when Michael Jordan wanted to be a baseball player? But if you aren’t even willing to try to make your dreams come true, you’ll end up settling for less of a life than you could’ve had. While you should always strive for success, you should realize that for many things in your life, failure actually is an option. But when you fail, don’t let it be because you didn’t care or didn’t try.

Don’t be afraid of hard work. Wayne Gretzky said, “The highest compliment that you can pay me is to say that I work hard every day, that I never dog it.” At the same time, don’t be afraid to spend some of your time not working. In some of my years in industry, I spent pretty much all my time working. At the other end of the spectrum, I spent most of my second year of grad school playing video games! Somewhere in between those two extremes lies a reasonable balance, and that balance is different for different people. Know that with hard work you can achieve great goals, but also know that there’s more to life than just your career. If all you ever do is work, you will regret it. You will look back on your life, and no matter how much you have accomplished, you will wish that you had lived differently. Play time and family time and sleep time are all necessary for you to recharge yourself, to keep yourself from burning out, to get perspective on what you’re doing and what your life means, and to get good ideas for the future.

Respect your future. Wayne Gretzky said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” What I mean by “respect your future” is: make choices that will make you happy for a long time, rather than just focusing on the next two seconds. Among other things, that means that in everything you do, you need to be sufficiently upstanding that your conduct doesn’t keep you up worrying late at night.

Respect yourself and respect other people. This means that you should realize that everyone is unique, and everyone has his or her own ideas and abilities, and that this is a good thing, rather than a bad thing. Celebrate diversity! The fact that people are different and possess different talents means that when you work as a team, together you can achieve more than any one of you could alone. I used to be a real elitist—I worked hard, I attended all the best schools, and I thought that with my smarts and my talents and my background, I was pretty hot stuff. When I entered the working world, I was amazed to discover that there are incredibly talented and capable people out there from all walks of life! Don’t think less of someone just because their background differs from yours. (Of course, if people manage to prove to you by their actions that you really should think less of them, then go ahead and do so.)

Even if you’re super-smart and super-capable, don’t discount the benefits of your connections in life. If you can use your connections to get things done, don’t think of that as cheating; instead, view your connections as part of your overall skill set. In fact, when you look at corporate executives and politicians, sometimes it seems like connections are their entire skill set! And although good luck isn’t exactly part of your skill set as such, you shouldn’t be ashamed when good luck helps you accomplish things, either. I’ll use that Gretzky quote one more time here, since it’s everybody’s favorie, and since it’s at least slightly related: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

• Finally, always remember that you’re only one small part of the world. You’re an important part of the world, certainly, but so is everyone else. Do things that will help everybody, not just yourself -- think of how great life would be if everyone acted that way! With the complexity and hassles of modern life, it’s really easy to get wrapped up in your own little world. Who has time to try to make the world a better place? Well, even though things seem hectic now, they’re probably going to seem even more hectic later on when you’re trying to deal with your spouse’s strep throat and trying to get your well-deserved promotion at work and wondering who’s going to pick up the kids from day care after school and when do you get to go on that vacation, anyway? Living in today’s society is a stressful business for everyone, and everyone needs to figure out how to find the personal resources to try to make the world a better place.

It’s been an honor to speak to all of you today. As far as I’m concerned, my generation has worked very hard to mess up society and our planet, and now it’s finally your chance to try to fix everything up. I wish you all the best of luck!

Commencement Address by Ray Sidney at Edwin O. Smith High School at Storrs, Connecticut - Class of 2007